Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Are Alarmed – Novartis and Roche Warn of “Cancer Epidemic”


The crown wave could have an unexpected consequence: Cancer diseases would not be discovered in time, say Vas Narasimhan and Severin Schwan.

Treatment of patients with Covid-19 in the Bruderholzspital near Basel.  Other patients currently do not dare to undergo a preventive examination.

Treatment of patients with Covid-19 in the Bruderholzspital near Basel. Other patients currently do not dare to undergo a preventive examination.

Photo: Alex Kühni

In the midst of the Corona crisis, the head of the pharmaceutical company Novartis is alarmed by the alarm of a wave of new cancer diseases. The reason: Many preventive tests are canceled because people no longer have the courage to go to the hospital or have postponed these appointments.

“There is a drastic drop in the number of diagnoses of noncommunicable diseases,” warned Vas Narasimhan Tuesday in a conference call on the quarterly data of the pharmaceutical giant. “It cannot go on like this, we must not allow a second epidemic of this kind.”

“Go to the doctor again”

Roche is also alarmed. “Go to the doctor again” – this is what CEO Severin Schwan recently asked in an interview with the AWP news agency. “Unfortunately, even after many months in Corona crisis mode, it is still true that many patients with other serious illnesses don’t dare to go to the hospital or to the doctor because of Covid-19.”

This worries him more and more, Schwan said, “because most people get sick and die from diseases other than Covid-19.” And he warned: “Over time, this will lead to enormous medical consequences.”

Novartis chief Vas Narasimhan has observed only one level of consultation with hospitals and doctors around the world since the end of September, as in times prior to Corona. However, this is also not true in all thematic areas. He said he continued to expect large fluctuations.

The appeal is not purely for charity: Roche and Novartis are among the largest producers of anticancer therapies.

Confirmed for Switzerland the largest group of private Hirslanden clinics the decline in patients with diseases other than Covid-19. During the lockdown in the spring, we actually had fewer consultations in the emergency departments of our clinics, even in the area of ​​life-threatening illnesses like stroke or heart attack.says a spokesperson. Also there is less The tumor operation.

Still sNo I see a reluctance to go to hospital in some patients. Especially due to the currently growing number of Covid cases, it is generally important to ensure that there is not an insufficient medical supply»Says the spokesperson of the clinic.

Novartis chief Narasimhan assumes that hospitals can now maintain normal operations despite the second corona wave. This time they should not postpone the treatment of other patients for financial reasons of their own. And now telemedicine should also be expanded. Doctors should also conduct consultations digitally, Narasimhan urges.

According to Bill Anderson, head of Roche’s pharmaceutical division, there has been a catch-up process, but health systems around the world are less busy than in the pre-Crown period. “The latest available data suggests that health systems are currently 85 to 95 percent busy compared to normal September and October.”

Novartis is already selling fewer cancer therapies

The appeal of Roche and Novartis is not made out of pure charity: both are among the greatest researchers and manufacturers of cancer therapies in the world. If people go to the doctor or hospital less often, the pharmaceutical manufacturers feel it too: if new cases of cancer and other serious diseases are not recognized and treated in time, this means a sales risk for them.

At Novartis, total sales in the third quarter only increased by a fraction of 1%. Sales of anticancer drugs even dropped slightly. According to Novartis, the effect cannot be explained only by the competition for cheap imitator drugs for the first bestsellers Afinitor and Exjade, but also by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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